INTERVIEW: Sarah Lapointe, Student at The Rock School for Dance Education

Sarah Lapointe: Student at The Rock School for Dance Education 

Monday, April 15, 2013

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Meet Sarah: At age sixteen, she’s traded prom dates for pointe shoes as a student at the prestigious Rock School of Dance Education. Living a near double-life as a ballerina-in-training and high school student has challenges all it’s own, from moving away from home at an early age to finding balance amidst a grueling schedule. Currently, Sarah is competing in the Youth America Grand Prix after her semi-final scores qualified her to advance to the final round in New York City. Below, Sarah takes us through the average experience of a residential student at The Rock. 

Tell us about your dance background. What have been the highlights of your career thus far? 

Dancing has been a huge part of my life from a very young age. My parents enrolled me in dance at the early age of two. Obviously I really enjoyed it because fourteen years later and I haven’t stopped since. I trained with Mid-Atlantic Center for the Performing Arts (MCPA) for twelve years, a small studio in Baltimore, Maryland about 45 minutes away from my hometown in Bel Air, Maryland.  For elementary and middle school, I attended a private Christian school. My grandparents would pick me up from school and take me straight to dance. I would eat dinner in the car and dance up to 5 hours a night. A lot of daily driving for my family and late nights staying up working on homework balancing academic and dance.  The start of my freshman year, I transferred to a performing arts high school, Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA). Even further driving and later nights! My sophomore year, I decided to transfer to The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia, PA. The school has developed a reputation as one of the nation’s top pre-professional training programs. Plus, they offer a unique in-house academic program and resident program. This allows me to focus on my dance education and academics all in the same location and train with the best!

I have attended many regional and national dance competitions and have received numerous dance awards, accolades and scholarships. High on my list of proud moments for me thus far was competing at Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) semi-finals, the world’s largest student ballet and contemporary dance competition, and placing Top 12 in both the senior classical and senior contemporary division. At YAGP semi-finals in Hartford, CT (2013), I was awarded 2nd place in the senior age division for my classical ballet variation Paquita. My scores qualified me for an invitation to YAGP finals in New York in April 2013.

I have trained in all genres of dance from ballet to hip-hop and performed many variations from classical ballets and in the full-length ballet of The Nutcracker. Ballet and pointe have always been my favorite. I have the ideal ballerina body, long lean legs.  And, I’m always being told I have the perfect last name for a ballet dancer “LAPOINTE”.

Summer has always been my chance to seek out new opportunities and gain experience outside of my home studio. I’ve attended summer intensives at Bolshoi Ballet Academy and The Rock School.  This summer (2013) I have been accepted into the 7 week ballet curriculum at Chautauqua School of Dance.

I am also expanding my horizons and was selected as a model for the 2014 Curtain Call Costume Dance Catalog. During Spring break I attended a 3 day photo shoot and have been asked to return in May for a ballet photo shoot.

You moved away from home to study at The Rock School. You have made tremendous sacrifices and strides in the dance world. What have you given up, and gained because of it?

Yes, after spending five weeks this past summer (2012) at The Rock School, I was faced with a tough decision. I enjoyed their rigorous program and exceptional faculty so much that I decided to return as a year round resident student.  It was a big decision to move away from home at 15, but I knew in my gut it was time.

I have given up all the countless hours spent on the road driving back and forth to the studio! I miss my family, my two cats (Reeses and Peanut), my friends, church and girl’s small group back home. And I have sacrificed a traditional high school experience.  Serious ballet training leaves little room for a normal teenager life. I feel it’s worth giving up a normal life to pursue my dreams.

I have gained a better understanding of myself like maturity, responsibility, and independence. The Rock School has given me an incredible amount of confidence. I feel like I’m on top of the world right now. Personally, I’ve received so much support and positive feedback. It’s all been really positive.

Describe your typical day at The Rock School.

During the week, I wake up in the dorms at 6:30 and walk over to The Rock School’s R Cafe to eat breakfast between 7:30 – 8:00. Morning academics session is from 8:00 – 10:00. During my morning break, from 10:00 – 10:30, I stretch and get ready for dance classes.  I start with Ballet from 10:30 – 12:00 and Pointe from 12:00 – 1:00.  All of our dance classes have live piano accompanist. Lunch is served in the R Café from 1:00-1:30.  I could have a half-hour lunch, or a 15-minute lunch depending on what my schedule is like. I return back to afternoon academic session from 1:30 – 3:00. I grab a healthy snack during my afternoon break from 3:00 – 3:30. Ballet class again from 4:00 – 6:00.  Dinner is served in the R Café between 5:00 – 7:00. Most of the time there are rehearsal running in the afternoon too with occasional 15-30 minute breaks. When I get back to the dorms in the evening, I work on my schoolwork. My academic classes are online through The Keystone School which allows flexibility with my dance schedule.  However, you really have to stay motivated to balance your academics and dance training.

On the weekends, there are no academic sessions.  Saturday starts with 1 ½ hours of Ballet and 1 hour of Pointe .  The remainder of the day depends on whatever rehearsals I am scheduled for.  On Sundays, I typically rest and relax, do my laundry, catch up on any schoolwork and get ready to start the week all over again.

The school and dorms are located on the Avenue of the Arts.  There is plenty to do and a lot of really nice restaurants.  A must stop on the weekends is either Insomnia cookies or Crumbs Bake Shop for a sweet treat.

Besides ballet, how do you enjoy spending your time?

I’ve learned to manage my time wisely because one of the things about training so many hours during the week is I don’t have much free time! What free time I do have is on the weekends and I love spending it with my friends. We like to meet up and go out for dinner and walk around town. I have quite a collection of nail polish and enjoy painting my friends nails. You can also find me spending time at the gym as I enjoy staying active and fit.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

To dance professionally is my dream. My eyes are open to all the possibilities that are awaiting me. I can see myself in a prestigious ballet company dancing soloist or principal roles. Eventually, I do want to attend college.  But the timeline is not very clear in my head at this point.  For now, I will just enjoy the moment, keep a positive outlook, and continue my journey to see where it leads me.

What dancers or role models inspire you? How do you stay motivated? 

When I was young, I looked up to and was inspired by the older students in my studio. Now that I am one of those older students, I am inspired by the other dancers around me and I feel incredibly fortunate to be where I am today. Since being at The Rock School, I have had the opportunity to train with many professional dancers like Misty Copeland, Daniel Ulbrict, Olivier Pardina, BeckAnne Sisk, Isaac Hernandez, and so many others.

I have so many dancers that inspire me… Paloma Herrera, Polina Semionova, Svetlana Zakharova, and the list goes on and on… But one person that truly inspires me the most is my coach at The Rock School, Natalya Zeiger.  She is a graduate of the Moscow Academy of the Bolshoi Theater and a former soloist with the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Company. Natalya is one of the most influential teachers I have had the honor to train with in all the years of dancing. Her attention to both technical and artistic qualities of a dancer is unlike any other. She helps me concentrate on building my technique, body alignment, stage presence, and developing my strength as a dancer to accomplish all the demands of ballet. And I’m so very thankful for the continual support from my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and extended family. I appreciate their hard work and allowing me the opportunities that I have had.

I stayed motivated by telling myself there’s always going to be someone better than me. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses.  I am happiest with myself when I know that I have done my personal best.

What should people know about ballet, or the life of a serious ballet student?

Ballet isn’t easy. You have to be flexible, athletic, graceful, and precise all while making your performance look easy, effortless and elegant.

The life of a serious ballet student spends numerous hours in the studio. Our feet have ton of blisters, bunions, ingrown toe nails, and our toe nails even fall off. In other words, we never have a nice pedicure. If anyone is interested in learning more, I would recommend watching the documentary “First Position”, or the reality show “Breaking Pointe”.

How has ballet changed you?

I cannot imagine my life without ballet because over the last 14 years it has been my life. Ballet has had a wonderful effect on my life. It has taught me discipline and made me strong both mentally and physically. I wake up every morning with a song in my heart and I am always happy!

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